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Joe Henderson: Hillsborough commissioners get their answer: Move the damn monument

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

If Hillsborough County commissioners were looking to the community for guidance about the Confederate war monument that has been so much in the news lately, even the oft-tone deaf representatives couldn’t fail to hear what was being shouted: Move the damn thing.

That became clear Thursday afternoon. About 24 hours after commissioners voted 4-2 to set a 30-day deadline for backers to raise $130,000 to help defray costs of moving the stone tribute to war about slavery from the county courthouse in downtown Tampa to a private cemetery in Brandon, the money came pouring in. The monument will be moved.

Nobody said to tear it down or smash it to pieces. Just move it off public property.

What’s wrong with that?

This was a full rebuke to those on the commission who fought the move. The Bucs, Rays and Lightning joined with the Tampa Chamber of Commerce to help pay for the move, declaring as one in a release that said, “…the monument does not reflect our values as a community.”

Former Tampa Bay Storm owner Bob Gries contributed $50,000 toward the cause. Tony Dungy donated $5,000. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and former Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink gave money. Ordinary citizens chipped in because, guess what? They want that thing sent to a proper location. A cemetery, a place of the dead, seems fitting.

The memorial has been in place since 1911, put there as a celebration of bigotry.  So why the the rush to raise enough money for the move? Commissioner Stacy White is a foremost advocate of keeping the memorial in its current public location. White’s reasoning was that it’s time to put this issue in the rear-view mirror.

Um, been watching the news lately? Charlottesville? White supremacists? The swift action that followed that vote proves it takes more than a wave of the hand from the dais won’t put this issue behind the community. Racial battle lines in this country haven’t been this pronounced since the battle for civil rights in the 1960s, and seeing that thing downtown in full public view every day was a way to guarantee this wouldn’t end well.

Even as Buckhorn has worked to help bring Tampa into the league of significant cities during his time in office, the commission frequently seems intent on projecting the image that we’re a bunch of back-water yahoos. No surprise. This has been going on in the county commission for a while.

Long-time residents remember the sight in 1983 of three commissioners being hauled away in handcuffs on bribery charges. There was the time when former commissioner Ronda Storms helped shove through an ordinance that kept the county essentially from acknowledging any Gay Pride events.

To emphasize her point, Storms directed that the ordinance be spelled “little g, little p.”

Now this, a commission vote was taken on the day of Heather Heyer’s funeral in Charlottesville, Va., where she was killed last week during a rally by white supremacists.

The commission dismissed this as a distraction from the important business of allowing more urban sprawl and development, Their way of dealing with this is basically saying “get over it.”

The civil war unquestionably is part of the South’s heritage, as supporters like to argue. Bad heritage isn’t reason enough to keep the monument where it is. The county commission is part of Hillsborough’s heritage too, but I don’t see monuments being erected to honor the indictments or bigotry that body has given the community.

What I did see is a community that stood up in the heat of the moment.

Well done.

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Joe Henderson has had a 45-year career in newspapers, including the last nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. He covered a large variety of things, primarily in sports but also including hard news. The two intertwined in the decade-long search to bring Major League Baseball to the area. Henderson was also City Hall reporter for two years and covered all sides of the sales tax issue that ultimately led to the construction of Raymond James Stadium. He served as a full-time sports columnist for about 10 years before moving to the metro news columnist for the last 4 ½ years. Henderson has numerous local, state and national writing awards. He has been married to his wife, Elaine, for nearly 35 years and has two grown sons – Ben and Patrick.

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